Paul Sporer’s Bold Predictions – Pitchers by Paul Sporer March 18, 2015 The Rotographs bold predictions are flying off the shelves! And I’m the only one arrogant enough to believe he needs two separate pieces for his. Yesterday I brought you my hitting picks and today come the pitchers. Unfortunately I’ve already lost one that I was really excited about, but I still have five for you: Alex Cobb is a top 5 SP. We’ve gotten news since this was originally written that Cobb left his latest Spring Training start with some forearm soreness. He declared is nothing major, but of course we can’t really trust players because they always take a rosy outlook. By the end of Tuesday, we have learned he is slated to start the season on the DL, becoming the 49th Rays pitcher who will be injured to start the season. I’m going to bail on the prediction. Built-in time off doesn’t preclude a big season, witness what Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale did in 27 and 26 starts, respectively, last year, but Cobb’s biggest issue to date has been staying healthy and it’s already here to start 2015. I remain high on him when he does pitch, but it’s to see that huge season now. Michael Wacha is a top 10 SP. Wacha entered 2014 as one of the more overpriced arms in the market, in my estimation. He was tracking as a top 20 pitcher despite just 95 innings of strong work between the regular season and playoffs. My biggest issue was that he had just the fastball and changeup as trustworthy pitches so I wasn’t sure he’d sustain a top 20 effort without a reliable breaking pitch. Well, he developed a pair of them! While he did fall short of his draft day price, it wasn’t for a lack of skill. Injuries limited him to just 107 innings, but they were very good innings and showed off the development of both his slider and curveball. The slider was the weapon for righties while the curveball staved off lefties. When he tried to go the other way – slider to lefties and curve to righties – trouble ensued, but even confining each breaker to one specific handedness of hitter leaves him with a devastating three-pitch arsenal to each side of the plate. I think we see the first big, full season from Wacha: 3.03 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 207 strikeouts in 215 innings with an 18-6 record (I’m obviously least confident in the W-L piece of all predictions involving SPs). Wade Miley is a top 25 SP. The Red Sox lack a true ace in their rotation, but that doesn’t mean they are devoid of talent in their starting five. Miley will have his work cut out for him joining the more difficult American League, but he’s coming from a hitter’s park so that shouldn’t bother him as much as it might someone coming from more spacious confines. We have seen glimpses of high quality from Miley in the past, including a 3.33 ERA/1.18 WHIP season back in 2012. He amped his strikeout rate last year to 21.1% and there is room for more thanks to that slider. Paired with a big time groundball rate (52% the last two seasons), he is primed for success, even in the AL East. He has already shown himself to be a workhorse with back-to-back 200-inning campaigns and 598.7 all told over the last three seasons, but now we’ll see if he can mix the skills he has shown in his three seasons en route to career year: 3.25 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 211 strikeouts in 224 innings with a 17-10 record. Volume is his key to success, but there is real talent here, too. Sonny Gray is outside the top 50 SP. This isn’t exactly a slam on Gray even though it is a negative prediction given his finish last year and draft status so far this season. But falling outside the top 50 doesn’t necessarily equate to an implosion. Seasons like Hiroki Kuroda, Ian Kennedy, and Jose Quintana lived around the 50-range last year. This is just about level-setting what Gray is as a pitcher. I don’t think he’s a fantasy ace. The full season strikeout rate we saw last year at 20.4% is more what I think he is than the 25.7% from his 64-inning debut in 2013. In fact, given his ridiculous groundball rate, I think we could see the strikeouts tick down even more as he relies on the grounder for success. More contact often leads to more runs, though. I think we’ll see something like a 3.58 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 168 strikeouts in 204 innings with a 13-10 record. Cody Allen leads the league in saves. The Cleveland Indians have a fantastic rotation and they should be setting up that bullpen nicely to close out a lot of potential wins this season. The prime beneficiary for that in the fantasy realm is Allen, who will have his first full season as the unquestioned closer. He seized the role by June and posted a 1.55 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 62 strikeouts in his final 46.3 innings with 21 saves in 24 chances. We didn’t have a 50-save closer in 2014 after a pair in 2013 (Craig Kimbrel and Jim Johnson), but Allen makes sure we don’t go two straight years without one. He is poised for a 50-save season with a 2.49 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 104 strikeouts in 71 innings. Brandon Maurer leads the Padres in saves. Maurer took well to the relief role last year. After a 7.52 ERA and 1.76 WHIP in seven starts spanning 32.3 innings, he dropped a 2.17 ERA and 0.96 WHIP on the league in 37.3 innings as a reliever. He also fanned 38 batters (25.3% K rate). Now a Padre thanks to the Seth Smith trade, he finds himself behind incumbent Joaquin Benoit, who has been excellent when pitching, but is far from the model of health. The 37-year old has six DL stints on his ledger and he essentially had a seventh last season when he missed nearly a month from late-August to late-September, but didn’t need to officially be DL’d because of roster expansion. It’s never fun to bet on someone’s health record as a negative, but I have a hard time seeing the veteran reliever hold up for another full season. Maurer will have to do some leap-frogging even if Benoit creates the opening, but I’m betting on the skill. Kevin Quackenbush is no shlub, but I think Maurer can be more dominant and thus a better fit for the ninth. — Bold Prediction Roundup: Zach Sanders, Brad Johnson, Dan Schwartz, Ben Duronio, David Wiers, Alex Chamberlain, Chad Young, and Brett Talley.